A week ago, PickupTrucks.com reported that the Ford Ranger’s last day of production will be December 22, 2011.  As someone who has owned two Ford Rangers over the past five years, I felt a little sad when I read the news. The automaker is introducing a new version of the Ranger globally, but since it will be nearly the same size as the F-150 sold in the U.S., they’ve decided not to bring the redesigned model here. Ford hopes that rather than switching to another brand in search of a small pickup, buyers will instead opt for the V-6 F-150, the company’s most fuel-efficient full-size pickup.

While I’ll miss the Ranger, it’s easy to understand Ford’s reasoning behind the move: The compact pickup segment is dwindling. Auto Observer notes that not only did sales of all pickup trucks decline when the recession hit, but sales of compact pickups have been cannibalized by the rapidly-improving full-size pickup market. The only model that’s been redesigned in the past six years is the Suzuki Equator, which was introduced in 2009 as a rebadged Nissan Frontier to flesh out Suzuki’s U.S. product line. Most other trucks in the class were redesigned in 2005 or earlier, so their engines are comparatively weak, and many of their features are woefully out of date.

As the compact pickup class fades into memory and automakers are racing to one-up each other’s full-size models, there’s a lot to be said for compact pickups. I live in Washington, D.C., and drive to my office downtown every day. The jam-packed streets, perplexing traffic circles and low-roofed garages make it a hostile city for the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and Ford F-150, both of which I test-drove recently. My extended-cab Ranger, however, is narrow enough to fit comfortably in skinny lanes, and has great visibility because it doesn’t have D-pillars. Not only is it a great city truck, but I’ve also used it to move between four apartments, haul picnic tables, tow a rack of rowboats and drive cross-country for a summer.

It turns out that most Ranger owners don’t agree with me. “Ford has conducted research that shows that the majority of Ranger buyers don't purchase the vehicle because it's a pickup,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's Vice President of Global Product Development, in an interview with Autoblog. “Instead, they come into the showroom looking for the least expensive, most economical Ford available.” Kuzak also mentioned that the automaker hopes those looking for cheap transportation will opt for the Ford Fiesta, while shoppers who want big utility in a small package will consider the Transit Connect.

If you’re like me, and you think a compact pickup truck is a good compromise for those of us who can’t haul mulch in a Fiesta or Transit Connect, but don’t want to shell out big bucks to gas up a full-size truck, you still have plenty of options. First, used Rangers are relatively inexpensive. You can find a 2WD six-cylinder 2009 Ford Ranger XLT for about $13,000, and older models will cost even less. If you can’t bring yourself to purchase a discontinued model or you prefer to buy new, you can browse offerings from Ram (formerly Dodge), Chevrolet, GMC, Suzuki, Nissan and Toyota. The Toyota Tacoma is ranked at the top of its class for its variety of body styles and off-road ability, and the Suzuki Equator won our 2011 Best Compact Truck for the Money Award. No matter which you choose, you’ll know that you’ll be getting a good deal on a fun-sized but useful vehicle.